MadSci Network: Science History

Re: What is the difference between a scientist and an explorer?

Date: Wed Oct 19 10:36:36 2005
Posted By: Mitchell Maltenfort, Staff, Neurosurgery, Thomas Jefferson University
Area of science: Science History
ID: 1129075043.Sh


I can give you advice from an _expert_ on what scientists and explorers
have in common.

His name was Santiago Ramon y Cajal and he won the Nobel Prize in Medicine
in 1906.  You can look him up at

Ramon y Cajal wrote an excellent book, "Advice for a Young Investigator,"
which has value for a scholar in any field.  Characteristics which a
scientist, explorer or other discoverer should have (with quotes from Ramon
y Cajal):

 ***Independent Judgement - “They are not spellbound or overly impressed by
the work of their predecessors and mentors but instead observe carefully
and question.”  That is, they want to see for themselves.

 ***Concentration - “Most people who lack self-confidence are unaware of
the marvelous power of prolonged concentration.”  Stories of exploration
and of scientific discovery rarely talk about the discovery happening
overnight; it takes time and wrong turns.

 ***Passion for Reputation - “The scholar struggles for the benefit of all
humanity, sometimes to reduce physical effort, sometimes to reduce pain,
and sometimes to postpone death, or at least render it more bearable.”  

 ***Taste for Scientific Originality - “...the incomparable gratification
associated with the act of discovery itself.”

The book is still in print:
and I recommend it enthusiastically to any student.  

I don't think the difference between explorers and scientists is any larger
than the differences among members within each group.  Scientists have a
variety of approaches and motivations, and so do explorers.  

Labels can become awfully murky sometimes.  Were the people who developed
hot-air balloons and airplanes scientists studying physical principles, or
explorers trying to get at a new territory?  

Another book you might want to look for is "The Cuckoo's Egg" by Clifford

Stoll's an astronomer by training -- that's an explorer who can't actually
visit the territory he's exploring! The book describes how he wound up
tracking down a computer hacker in Germany.  It's a fun read and really is
a novel of exploration even if 90% of it is set in and around Berkeley,


Mitch Maltenfort

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